World Cup of Gender Equality 2018

11 Jun

The men’s football World Cup is about to kick off for the 21st time in Russia.  Back in 2014, when Brazil hosted the tournament, I thought it would be fun to compare how women fared in the competing countries, while everyone was engrossed in the male game.  I collated a few indicators and wrote a blog.  It seems only natural to return, and see how we are doing in 2018.

Of course, each time there’s a World Cup, the participating countries change.  So it’s impossible to compare all of the same countries over time.  This year’s teams are quite an interesting spread, with 20/32 having taken part last time, and two first-timers: Iceland and Panama.  The competition will feature the highest number of Nordic countries ever (3 – Denmark, Iceland and Sweden) alongside the highest number of Arabic-speaking countries (4 – Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia).

First among my gender equality indicators is the proportion of women in parliament, a reflection of women’s political participation, and easy to find data for all countries:

 

Source: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SG.GEN.PARL.ZS

 

In 2014, none of the countries in the top 3 on this measure had parliaments with more than 40% female members, but in 2018 this is true of 4 countries.  Iceland and Sweden are famous for their high rates of female representation, with 48% and 44% of members of parliament, respectively, being female; Senegal (42%) and Mexico (43%) are probably less well-known for progressiveness in this regard.  Back here, I have to use UK figures for England, and the figures have gone up quite a bit, with 32% of MPs women, compared to just 22% in 2014.  At the lower end of the table, Iran has doubled its proportion of women in parliament since 2014, from 3% to 6%.  Nigeria is one of a small number of countries to have reversed the trend,  with the proportion of women falling from 7% to 6%.  In 2014, Costa Rica headed the World Cup countries’ table with 39% of its parliamentarians female, compared to 35% today.

 

Next I’ve looked at gender pay gap data, a much more high profile issue in terms of equality, now, than it was back in 2014.  It’s considerably harder to get comparable data across the globe for this, but once again I’ve used a combination of OECD and Wage Indicator data to maximise coverage across World Cup countries.  The Wage Indicator data comes from surveys, rather than population data, but covers a wider range of countries:

 

Sources:

https://data.oecd.org/earnwage/gender-wage-gap.htm

https://wageindicator.org/salary/gender-pay-gap-1/world-map-gender-pay-gap

 

 

In 2018, South Korea is just about tied for the highest gender pay gap with Brazil – albeit measured on different scales.  Whereas South Korea’s gender pay gap is virtually static on OECD measures since 2014, Brazil’s gap on Wage Indicator data has widened considerably.  Costa Rica has the lowest gender pay gap standing at 1.8% – unfortunately there was no information for this country in 2014.  However, Belgium, which had the lowest gender pay gap of World Cup countries then, has reduced its gap further, from 6% to 4.7% this year.  The UK, Germany and France are still reasonably close together in the middle of the table, but France has seen a bigger reduction in the gender pay gap since 2014, dropping to under 10% while the UK and Germany remain nearer to 15% on the OECD scale.  Of the Nordic countries, Denmark has the lowest gender pay gap, while data is much more patchily available for countries in the Middle East and Africa.

 

Finally, I turned to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Gender Gap Index, for an overall indication of women’s relative position in World Cup countries. For many years, Nordic countries have topped this Index, which looks at gaps between men and women in health, education, economics and politics.  Iceland, a World cup newcomer, is number one on the Gender Gap Index showing the greatest equality between men and women in 2017.  In the 2014 World Cup, Switzerland was the highest-ranking participating country, charting at number 9, in the Gender Gap Index for 2013.  The Swiss have now dropped to 21st place,  Here’s how the World Cup countries rank overall:

Source: https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-gender-gap-report-2017

 

And here’s how the position of the 20 countries who appeared both in World Cup 2014, and again this year, have changed:

 

 

That so many countries have fallen down the WEF Index over four years, is a reminder that gender equality is rarely achieved in a linear fashion: countries can go through periods of both progress and decline, with women’s position fluctuating over time.  The tough economic situation of the last few years has probably impacted on women’s position in many nations.  And it should also be borne in mind that countries tend to ‘bunch’ on health measures, like gender gaps in life expectancy, and, at the top of the index, in matters of educational equality between men and women.  So changes in ranking can be particularly influenced by changes in political representation – the Russian World Cup hosts have declined in position since 2014, and rank relatively low in terms of political equality between men and women.  France has recently seen increases in both its proportion of women in parliament and at the top of government, and this is important in its relatively big shift up the Index; by contrast Brazil’s political empowerment rating has dropped recently, accounting for its lower position in 2018.  Among countries playing in the World Cup this year, but not 2014, Peru and Senegal have been making progress on the Gender Gap Index.

 

So who would win a World Cup of Gender Equality?  Iceland tops two of my tables so has to be up there, and Costa Rica has the lowest gender pay gap.  Neither of these countries is hotly tipped for the football finals.  Simon Kuper reminded us in the FT Weekend that the World Cup’s relationship to other trends can be overhyped: ‘It often reflects sociological reality but doesn’t shape it’, he concluded.  I read elsewhere that Gary Lineker once said ‘Football is a simple game.  Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes, and at the end the Germans always win’. If the look Angela Merkel gave Trump the other day is anything to go on, could it be that women’s empowerment and men’s footballing prowess are set to converge?? Perhaps it’s of some comfort in England that many argue that football World Cups are essentially unpredictable …

 

 

 

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30 hours free childcare: still complicated

31 May

Figures newly released from Wales, show that take-up of 30 hours free childcare per week – available to 3 and 4 year olds with parents in work – has been considerably lower than expected.  For a flagship government policy, aimed at improving outcomes for disadvantaged children, and at enhancing mothers’ opportunities in the labour force, this must raise questions in the corridors of power.

Back in 2015, when 30 hours free childcare was first slated in the Queen’s Speech, I wrote a blog outlining some of the issues which were likely to open up in the gap between rhetoric and practice.  In the intervening period it has remained one of my most popular pieces.  It’s a policy area where the solution offered seems simple, but which encompasses an impressive range of potential pitfalls.

Three main factors demonstrate the problems with the offer.  First, 30 hours free childcare is offered to children where parents are working – it is not a universal offer.  While children in some of the most disadvantaged families can access 15 hours free child care from the age of 2, and all 3 and 4 years can access 15 hours per week over the school year, the enhanced 30 hours offer is limited, at the lower end, to those earning at least the equivalent of 16 hours National Minimum Wage per week. The lack of universality is an issue, as some of the families where early childcare might be most beneficial, may not be eligible, due to lower or no earnings for at least one parent. Secondly, there is a timing issue.  As parents are not eligible for free childcare from the end of maternity or parental leave, the 30 hours can be viewed as too little, too late.  For parents who have had to go it alone in the period between their child’s first and third birthday, some may be unwilling or unable to change existing providers when eligibility eventually kicks in; others may have already done the calculation of costs of childcare (rising at rates of 7% last year) versus wage packet (stagnant), and left the workforce altogether.

Thirdly, providers are struggling (as was warned from the start) to meet the conditions of the offer without cross-subsidising the free hours through new charges elsewhere.  The hourly rate paid to providers by the government, may not reflect full costs, and has not been uprated this year.  The funding rate is complicated still further by interaction with other policies. Increases in the National Minimum Wage mean that staff are now more expensive, and auto-enrolment in pensions will make employer bills still higher, as outlined here.  Of course, such employment policies are positive in a relatively low-paid sector of the economy, but if funding for children’s places does not reflect these costs, a hole remains to be filled.  Some may bridge the gap by employing cheaper, less well-trained staff; others lower staff to child ratios.  Meanwhile, parents working longer hours will pay more for cover of hours above the 30 provided free. Some nurseries now charge for items (e.g. meals) and excursions that were previously included in fees.  Moreover, commentators have started to raise concerns that large-scale providers could go bust if the funding pressures become  greater. As local authorities provide fewer childcare services directly, private sector organisations are increasingly important.  A recent Guardian piece noted that commercial providers may be less accountable in terms of how they use government money, and distribute costs between themselves and parents. They also need to bring profit to investors. In more deprived areas the pressures may be magnified, as quality childcare is more patchily available, and there may be little capacity to cross-subsidise the free offer through additional charges elsewhere.

In her feminist takeover of the New European, Caroline Criado Perez today makes the case for universal free childcare as an integral part of achieving gender equality.  She points out that 25% of mothers in the EU cite unpaid care work as the reason for their lack of participation in the jobs market (compared to only 3% of men).  The UK has amongst the most expensive childcare in the region, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the partial solution on offer here is proving unpersuasive for many.  The generous policies of countries like Sweden, which provides daycare for all children at an enviably subsidised rate, alongside relatively well-paid parental leave, is beginning to prove a pull for workers from Britain, other parts of the EU, and beyond.  In an article for Swedish radio, an Irish woman talks about how being in Sweden means she can be with her child in the early months and not worry about costs when she returns to work, or about having to give up work altogether.  Thirty hours free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds in the UK still risks failing to meet this test for many parents.

 

 

Some ministries are more equal than others

1 May

Behind the headlines about Amber Rudd’s resignation from the office of Home Secretary, and the anointing of her successor in that role, Sajid Javid, there was a second, less well-attended announcement.  Rudd had recently taken on the Women and Equalities portfolio, following Justine Greening’s departure from government in the January reshuffle, and a new minister was therefore also required in this role. Penny Mordaunt is to be that person, balancing the Women and Equalities brief with her existing job of Secretary of State for International Development.

Mordaunt is the fourth person to hold the Women an Equalities brief in two years, and the seventh incumbent since 2010, when the Conservatives came to power, under David Cameron in the coalition government.  The minister for Women and Equalities is not a freestanding post, and has been held in conjunction with other ministerial positions.  Since 2010, the brief has been held alongside Home Office (twice) Culture (twice) Education (twice) and now International Development.  The eagle-eyed may have noticed that one of the spells in Culture was presided over by none other than Sajid Javid, who held the Equalities part of the brief while Culture secretary in 2014, partnering with Nicky Morgan who was then Minister for women, alongside her role as Financial Secretary to the Treasury. Eyebrows were raised as Morgan had only ‘attending’ status in Cabinet – such ministers only join Cabinet when issues concerning their remit are on the agenda. Some might say that gender and equalities issues are always there ….

So, has there been any shift in priorities since 2014? Well, in the sense that the Women and Equalities minister has been a full member of Cabinet, then yes. Nicky Morgan later took on the brief while Education Secretary, and Justine Greening held those two posts under Theresa May, before Amber Rudd’s brief sojourn while Home Secretary. There is now also a Women and Equalities Select Committee in parliament to provide scrutiny on relevant issues. But the frequent movement between departments and subsequent lack of continuity, is less positive. With Amber Rudd’s departure, the Cabinet has become even less gender-balanced than before – it could have presented an opportunity to make the post freestanding and promote another woman.

Mordaunt’s busy role as International Development Secretary currently involves developing new safeguarding standards in the aid sector, following the Oxfam scandal, on top of all the complexities of poverty reduction and humanitarian activity.  Arguably there is a good match between dealing with global and domestic inequalities, but the two ministerial roles have not been held together before, and the international development sector is currently having to work hard in these areas.  We will have to wait and see if this results in any new synergies, or further movement down an already crowded political agenda.

Meanwhile, over in Labour, the Shadow Women and Equalities minister is now a standalone post, indicating that the brief may have higher priority in any future Labour administration. How long we’ll have to wait and see if that’s the case is an open question…

 

 

 

Got the numbers – why not use them?

7 Apr

Ah, the gender pay gap – have you had enough of it yet? It’s been in the headlines rather a lot lately, thanks to the government’s new reporting regime,  which means that all organisations with over 250 employees had to get their figures in during the first week of April.

So what do the numbers measure? Not equal pay, which is the business of all employees being paid the same amount for the same job, as dealt with in the Equal Pay Act of 1970, whereby pay discrimination was outlawed; but rather the difference between men and women’s average hourly pay in the same company.  At this point, the chorus of dissent begins: it is not illegal to pay men and women differently if they are in different jobs at different levels.  There may be all sorts of good reasons why men and women are paid differently –  e.g. the airline defence: it’s not the company’s fault that nearly all the pilots are men, and most of  the stewarding crew, women.  Also, some argue, if the impetus is to reduce the gender pay gap over time, some companies may offload their least well-paid (predominantly female) employees to change their figures for the better.  Here, you need to imagine large conglomerates, where the highly paid professionals are predominantly male, but the service employees are predominantly female – one solution could be, to outsource your cleaning contracts, so that the gender pay gap appeared to narrow, while simultaneously potentially worsening the employment situation of your lowest-paid female labour force.  Another objection  to gender pay gap reporting might be that a 0% gender pay gap is a kind of totalitarian totem, which signifies little, and rides roughshod over men’s and women’s patterns of employment.

In response, I’d say, yes, the figures are crude, but the very fact that we have them, puts imbalances in the public domain, that were rarely quite so visible before.  The airline defence partly falls down when you  observe variance across the sector: Ryanair’s gender differentials in pay are particularly large, while Easyjet has already noted a problem and has a plan in place to increase the numbers of female pilots on its books; British Airways, on the other hand, does not have a massive gender pay gap by the standards of the sector, as its efforts towards diversity are longer-established, and extend beyond pilots, into engineering and baggage handling and loading roles.  The issue as to why fewer women train for specialist technical jobs requires action in education and expectations, and is one for wider society, not simply employers, to consider.

On the potential outsourcing hurdle, the fact that we now have reporting does mean that gender pay gaps are more transparent, and companies more potentially accountable, because the figures are in the public domain.  What CEO wants to go down as the one who fixed his (and it is usually his)  company’s figures by shuffling women off the books?  After all, it’s been noticed that law firms are not obliged to include partners of firms in their calculations, as they are not employees. As the optics of this exclusion are bad, some firms have published figures with partners included, so that the impact of male dominance at senior levels is more clearly demonstrated.  There are, though, a number of issues related to enforcement of gender pay gap reporting – the EHRC, the body responsible for ensuring that companies do report and are held to account, is poorly resourced and has limited powers to sanction employers.

Finally, on the 0% totem – the fact that there is a relatively small number of companies with gender pay gaps going in favour of women (going ‘past’ 0 if you like) shows that there are scenarios where women can be better paid. A 0% gender pay gap is not some blanket goal, but rather more of a direction of travel indicator, which invites us to think a bit more about what the absence of a gender pay gap might look like, and what the barriers to it may be. As nearly four-fifths of organisations pay men more, we have plenty of time to contemplate these questions.  One pertinent question that arises is what level of gender pay gap is acceptable?  Will gender pay gap reporting mean that deviation from the overall average of reported gender pay gaps, becomes a new benchmark for companies?

And above all of this, the real issue is, why are the figures turning out as skewed towards men as they are?  Two important reasons: one – these are legacy figures, the summation of all the hiring, retention and promotion decisions made over many years up to now.  That was then – let’s plan for a more equal future.

Secondly, all those decisions are the sum of what the numbers in themselves cannot address.  If  we have all these qualified women who are doctors, lawyers, MBA-holding executives, PhDs (and we do, and have had, for decades now) why are they not the senior consultants, law firm partners, ‘C-suite’ office holders, or professors, in near-equal numbers?  And, at least as importantly, why – to name just a few examples –  are the cleaners, care workers, air crew, classroom assistants, secretaries, un-promoted teachers, paid so comparatively badly?  The structural problems of gendered occupational sectors, and poor pay associated with  lack of progression, are crucial to questions of inequality, and unveiled in all their ‘glory’ via gender pay gap reporting.  Public sector organisations – often regarded a good place for professional women to be – have also been shown to have substantial gender pay gaps. For example, the worst performing council on reporting measures has a median gender pay gap of 34%, while 65% of its employees are women.  A range of trade unions, universities and health trusts have also reported gaps well in excess of the average among reporting organisations (median 9.7%).  This raises the question as to what organisations should do to remedy their position.  In public sector organisations, ‘family friendly’ and flexible working options are often available.  What the figures may be indicating is that these options are associated – however subconsciously – with a dearth of career progression: with retention, rather than with promotion, of staff.

It’s not news that caring work is undervalued, whether performed professionally, or outside the workforce, back at home.  In both cases, this work is overwhelmingly done by women.  Until that changes, and until the tendency for ‘feminised’ labour forces to be associated with lower pay is quashed, the gender pay gap is going to persist. Until there’s a will to address the inequalities that stop both men and women balancing childcare, care for relatives, and employment, we’re stuck.  The figures show it. Long ago the Undertones sang ‘You’ve got my number, why don’t you use it?’  On the gender pay gap, we have the numbers, now we need to use them to begin to address all those cultural undertones in the workplace.

 

 

 

Springing into action on Shared Parental Leave?

20 Mar

Today marks the vernal equinox in the Northern hemisphere, the official start of Spring, and the day when we experience almost exactly equal amounts of daylight and night time.  What better time to consider the balance between the sexes in terms of earning and caring work, and gender equality in general?

Appropriately, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee have published their Fathers and the Workplace report, making recommendations concerning paternity leave, flexible working, workplace culture and the much-discussed – and often criticised –  Shared Parental Leave, which was first made available to parents almost exactly three years ago, in 2015.

Shared Parental Leave was introduced in order to better meet the aspirations of new generations of mothers and fathers, who wish to share employment and childcare responsibilities more equally, avoiding the traditional default of breadwinner fathers and mothers as parents-in-chief.  As dual-earner families have grown in numbers, and younger men and women report more egalitarian attitudes regarding paid work and parenting, this all seems to make good sense.

However, the particular system of Shared Parental Leave that was introduced in the UK has done little to shift the dial in practice, in terms of who does what.  It does not come with a realistic level of wage replacement, nor does it represent a means whereby fathers have their own entitlement to parental leave; rather it is a method for women to transfer leave to their partners during the first year of their child’s lives, after they have used up the initial weeks of non-transferable maternity leave. The government estimated that the policy would be taken up by 2-8% of parents, and evidence collected since, suggests that even this figure may have been optimistic.  As the Committee’s report sums up: ‘The Government’s objective is for mothers and fathers to share the task of caring for their children more equally. The current shared parental leave policy will not achieve this on a large scale, as the Government’s own estimates of take-up show’.

In order to address the low take-up issue, the Government has embarked on a new campaign, ‘share the joy‘ which publicises Shared Parental Leave, showing couples who have used it, talking up the benefits of both parents being able to work and to take leave during their baby’s first year.  But without higher levels of pay for Shared Parental Leave, it is hard to see how raising awareness will increase the attractiveness of the package.  And while, of course, caring for babies and children can often be joyful and rewarding, what many parents are looking for is a policy which will enable then to share the load of meals, laundry, appointments as well as the joys of parenting.  As today’s report says, ‘[the] campaign to promote shared parental leave is welcome, but does not constitute a plan of action for achieving wider societal change.

If we’ve learnt anything from other countries, it is that getting to that point takes time.  The ‘latte papas’, the much-vaunted buggy pushers of Sweden’s urban landscape, only reached a critical mass because of decades of policy tweaking. Sweden first changed the law regarding leave in 1974, when maternity leave was changed to parental leave, for which both mothers and fathers were eligible.  However, there was an option for men to sign over their parental leave to their partners – in 1994 it was discovered that most did so, meaning that only 10% of parental leave days were actually used by men.  In order to attain the gender equality envisaged by the original policy, the government introduced a ‘daddy quota’ of 30 days leave in 1994.  If fathers didn’t use this quota, the month of leave was lost from the couple’s total entitlement.  This policy had immediate impact on fathers’ participation in early parenting, and dedicated leave for fathers spread as a policy throughout Scandinavia.  In the intervening years, the amount of leave for men has been increased repeatedly, and the Nordic countries regularly top international indices measuring both gender equality and happiness, or life satisfaction (incidentally, today is also the International Day of Happiness, and the Finns top the UN’s index this year).

At the end of last year the Telegraph reported that the Swedish government was looking to increase their ‘daddy quota’ to 5 months, to further enhance gender equality.  Perhaps a test of how embedded such policies have become, is that in the early days of parental leave in Sweden, sceptics complained that men just used their days to go elk hunting;  now in the West of Sweden where an elk hunting week is an annual tradition, they are looking change the rules for subsidised childcare to mean that parents can have an ‘elk days’ entitlement, without their partners having to take holiday to accommodate the hunt ….

Meanwhile, back in Britain, the Nordic experience of dedicated leave for fathers has long been cited as a preferred solution to the problem of gender imbalances in take-up of parental leave.  Today’s report goes so far as to recommend that the government considers replacing the current system of Shared Parental Leave with a Nordic-style independent entitlement for fathers.  The Women and Equalities Committee suggests a 12-week period of paternal leave, with the first four weeks paid at a capped wage replacement rate, and the rest at statutory levels.  While the costs of such a scheme are not inconsiderable, there is scope for them to be balanced by greater participation in the workforce by mothers.  There are still plenty of barriers to the success of such a policy – not least the slowness of government machinery.  Elsewhere in the report there are recommendations related to flexible working which are not slated for review until 2019, and Brexit will keep everyone busy at least until then.  There are also wider barriers, in the shape of prevailing workplace culture, and the long reach of gender stereotypes. But as the Swedish experience shows, we might be getting somewhere with this type of policy in 20 years’ time.  Springing in to action? Maybe not, but perhaps, at last, a kickstart.

 

 

Come Together (with apologies to the Beatles)

2 Mar

Here come ol’ Maybot

She come grooving up slowly

She got EU eyeballed

She one high stakes roller

She got down with DUP

Got to play some joker she don’t know who to please

 

She wear high shoe

She got innovative jam ball

She got pointing finger

She shout ‘Clarity’

She say I know EU and EU know me

One thing she can tell you is you gonna be free

 

Come together, right now, over me

 

She Brexit production

She got Swiss Alp gumboot

She got BoJo sidekick

She one party cracker

She got Fox down in DIT

Hold you to his trade deals you can fell his unease

 

Come together, right now, over me ….

 

She got border crossing

She got early warning

She got muddied waters

She one BoJo filter

She says ‘one and one and one is three’

Got to be book-cooking ‘cause it’s so hard to see

Come together, right now, over me

 

Oh!

Come together

Yeah

Come together

Yeah …..

 

 

 

 

Brexit Valentine (or It’s not EU, it’s me …)

14 Feb

 

You may not be the one,

But you are ‘a’ one

With whom I feel strongly aligned;

I love our deep and special relationship

(For details, read my mind…)

 

I have some issues with boundaries –

I like them fuzzy, not hard –

If you want to trade with me

I may play a Trump card …

 

I adore our rich exchanges,

Please don’t change a bit,

I like being in your club –

But not the membership….

 

We’re going through a transition –

It’s just a silly phase –

You’re my friend with all the benefits,

I’m the one who involuntarily pays …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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